Interview With AGEod’s American Civil War Game Developer Pocus

by Brett Schulte on June 25, 2008 · 0 comments

I’m pleased to present a short interview with the lead programmer for Birth of America and AGEod’s American Civil War Philippe Malacher, well known as Pocus on the AGEod forums. Pocus was gracious enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about the game and the company. I greatly appreciate it.

Question #1: As many readers know, AGEod is based in France. Despite a European setting, the first two AGEod game cover American wars, including Birth of America (about the Revolutionary War/French and Indian War) and of course AGEod’s American Civil War. Why did you choose to portray these two conflicts first, and how do you decide what game topics you are going to cover next?

There are a number of reasons actually. The two main ones are that when we designed and developed Birth of America or American Civil War, there was no recent operational-level PC game on the subject especially true for BOA), so naturally, we wondered if something of interest to players (and to us, we are players also!) could be done! Also, from a pragmatic perspective, we needed, within the frame of our incremental engine development philosophy a binary, mainly continental conflict without too much need for an economic system. BOA, and to a lesser extent AACW, fitted the bill perfectly. And so the plan for the games was conceived.

Question #2: AGEod has won numerous awards for the game engine used in Birth of America and AGEod’s American Civil War. In searching the web, the response to your games is almost entirely positive. You’ve even impressed the notoriously hard to please grognards over at the Wargames-Historical newsgroup! In your view, what makes your games so popular with wargamers?

I think it has to do (partly at least) with how we design the mechanics of our games. Too often, game developers don’t go back to the reality behind game concepts they implement. By force of habit, they will reuse something which is already a well established mechanism in others games and adapt it to their own game. On the contrary, we start with a blank slate to do each feature, in an historical yet fun way. A typical example is how conscription recruitment was done in the ACW. People were called en masse and not continuously every week. So basically, you have to think of a system where you get rare but massive amount of conscripts points. And thus we created the options to call for volunteers. Where the fun begins is that you can ‘pay’ these volunteers, as it was done historically. This rethinking of some of the basics of wargames is perhaps one of the things which has pleased people, because they feel things fall into place naturally.

Question #3: AGEod has greatly impressed me with your willingness to incorporate mods into new patches for AGEod’s American Civil War and al of your other wargames. Gray-Lensman’s Railroad Mod, in which he has done an amazing amount of research trying to recreate the railroad network across America circa 1861, is one example. Some game companies would not only fail to recognize his hard work, they would frown on it. Why did you make your game engine so moddable, and why do you view mods and modders with such a favorable eye?

In my opinion, it’s important to understand that releasing a game is only the beginning of the adventure. Once this is done, beyond the usual bug fixing, caring about the players’ feedback is instrumental in the quality of the evolving game. You can’t possibly think about everything and it’s a question of humility somehow to understand that hundreds of people who will spend their evenings reenacting the maneuvers of G. Washington or the offensives of Lee can see things that you missed. This doesn’t mean that the developers don’t have a clear vision of their game from the start, though!

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